Uganda Rejects Calls to Amend Its Abortion Law During U.N. Human Rights Council Review

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(PRESS RELEASE) The government of Uganda rejected recommendations last week to revise its abortion legislation.

A Uganda delegation responded to a range of issues raised at the U.N. Human Rights Council—the U.N.’s main human rights body—as part of its review of the country’s human rights record. In its response, the Ugandan government signaled that although there is support for strengthening measures to address maternal deaths and ensuring access to reproductive health services, abortion law reform is not a priority.

Abortion in Uganda is legal in cases of life endangerment,  yet according to 2013 research from the Guttmacher Institute over 300,00 induced abortions occur annually, with nearly 125,000 women seeking treatment for complications from unsafe abortions.

“Women have a fundamental right to reproductive health services, yet the Ugandan government continues to deny, even punish, women who need to end a pregnancy,” said Onyema Afulukwe, senior legal advisor for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Making quality maternal health a reality for women can only happen if the government liberalizes its abortion law and finally implements strong reproductive health policies.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council examines each country’s human rights record every four years in a process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The Center with the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) submitted a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council ahead of Uganda’s review addressing human rights concerns stemming from the country’s abortion law and policies. In July 2016, CEHURD released a report showing how the unclear abortion law in the country has led to women and adolescents seeking unsafe abortions—and even to the arrest of doctors and health workers who provide legal post-abortion care.

“Unclear laws have led to lack of access to reproductive health services and choices for women in Uganda,” said Moses Mulumba, executive director of CEHURD. “It is painful to see that, even at the U.N., the government is rejecting calls to amend abortion legislation. Women’s health and lives must be prioritized.”

The Ugandan government supported a number of recommendations from governments at the U.N. Human Rights Council including:

  • Strengthen measures to fight against maternal mortality and morbidity with a human rights based approach,
  • Intensify efforts to reduce maternal and child mortality rates,
  • Ensure sufficient health budget, and full and equal access to health services, in particular adolescent, reproductive and family planning services and relevant education,
  • Effectively implement relevant laws governing sexual and gender based violence,
  • Enact legislation prohibiting violence against children in all settings,
  • Continue to strengthen measures aimed at protecting and rehabilitating women victims of sexual and domestic violence,
  • Further protect women’s rights and combat violence against women,
  • Strengthen police training on how to investigate sexual and gender based violence, including against children, and ensure that perpetrators of these acts are appropriately prosecuted.

The Center has worked extensively in Uganda on the human rights implications of lack of access to legal abortion and modern contraceptives. In November 2013, the Center, the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law released a joint report entitled The Stakes Are High: The Tragic Impact of Unsafe Abortion and Inadequate Access to Contraception in Uganda. The report documents personal stories of women impacted by the widespread and false impression that abortion is illegal in all circumstances in Uganda— when in fact it is permitted for women with life-threatening conditions and victims of sexual assault.

In 2012, the Center launched its first research report on Uganda's laws and policies on termination of pregnancy. The report found that the laws and policies are more expansive than most believe, and Uganda has ample opportunity to increase access to safe abortion services.

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